Executed Saudi cleric fought for rights of Shia minority
Outspoken critic of regime and royal family sentenced to death in ‘deeply flawed trial’
Shia Muslims in Lahore, Pakistan protest against the execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Photograph: Rahat Dar/EPA
Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the dissident cleric executed by the Saudi authorities, was an outspoken critic of discrimination against the county’s marginalised Shia minority.
He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2014 for “disobeying the ruler, inciting sectarian strife” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations,” after what Amnesty International called a deeply flawed trial.
The cleric had initially been charged in 2012 with banditry and other offences after security services claimed he opened fire on them.
He was shot and wounded during his arrest, which seemed to be tied to his celebration of the death of crown prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, the former interior minister.
‘Horror and fear’
He proceeded to call on God to take the lives of the ruling al-Saud family, and the al-Khalifas in neighbouring Bahrain, where a Shia majority complains of oppression by the ruling Sunni minority.
However, despite his rhetoric, he insisted that only peaceful means should be used in opposition to the government and the al-Saud family.
Nimr over many years called for reform in Saudi and an end to discrimination against the Shia community in education, employment and in practising their rites.
Many Sunnis in the country, including hardline clerics, dismiss the Shia as apostates and use derogatory terms to refer to them.
After making some conciliatory gestures towards the Shia following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, which placed the kingdom under international scrutiny, the authorities reverted to taking a hard line against Shia grievances, observers say.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016)